The International Cricket Council have taken the unusual step of preparing a reserve pitch for the World Test Championship final at the Oval due to fears Just Stop Oil protesters could try to damage the playing surface.
Cricket has been bracing itself to become the climate action protests’ latest sporting target by beefing up security measures, but the ICC have gone to another level with the preparation of a spare pitch. On the eve of Wednesday’s game, the extra surface was not obvious on the Oval’s square, but it is understood that one has been prepared as a contingency should the pitch be damaged.
Just Stop Oil have staged protests – often involving throwing powder paint – at a number of recent events, including rugby’s Premiership final at Twickenham, the Chelsea Flower Show and World Snooker Championship. Last week, MCC told Telegraph Sport that it would be adding to its security provision at Lord’s this summer as it looked to prevent a pitch invasion.
Just Stop Oil have twice got in the way of international cricket teams travelling to a venue over the last week, with England affected on their way to their Test against Ireland on Thursday, and Australia slightly delayed for training at the Oval on Monday.
There has been a sense that the WTC final is particularly at risk due to the ICC’s commercial deal with Aramco, the oil giant predominantly owned by the Saudi royal family. As a result, the ICC and staff at the Oval have been particularly wary about strengthening security in a bid to prevent an incident, and ensuring the game can continue if one happens.
Cricket pitches take months of delicate work to prepare, and will change state as it becomes more used throughout the course of a five-day match, making any artificial change of state problematic.
However, the ICC’s playing conditions (6.4) for the World Test Championship do allow for a change of pitch should the initial surface become “dangerous or unreasonable for play to continue”, beyond repair. It appears that ICC have looked to get ahead of the game by preparing a reserve pitch.
An example of the havoc that can be wreaked by an attack on a pitch was seen in 1975, during the third Test between England and Australia at Headingley, which was abandoned after the pitch was attacked overnight by vandals, who poured oil on it and dug three large holes to campaign for the release of robber George Davis, a London minicab driver jailed for involvement in an armed robbery.
Australia captain Pat Cummins said that a security briefing had made the players aware that protests were possible.
“It’s something we got in the security briefing a couple days ago,” Cummins said. “I’ve heard that they’re aware of it and kind of keep an eye out. But that’s as much as we’ve heard.
“So hopefully, it doesn’t happen, obviously. But yeah, I’ve heard there’s a few different events that have been affected.”
Cummins is a strong supporter of climate action – going as far as launching a campaign in Australia called Cricket for Climate – but appeared to distance himself from Just Stop Oil’s disruptive tactics.
“First of all I have to say I haven’t really followed it at all, so I don’t really know what these protests are about, but my view is always there’s right ways to go about things and potentially not the right way to go about things,” Cummins said. “Whenever anyone’s got any beliefs, you just hope you take the right option.”